The International Builder’s Show in Las Vegas was brimming full of ideas for new designs and amenities. How much of that can be incorporated into Alaska home building is an open question, but there are some trends that just won’t go away that local builders should pay attention to. Let’s start with the “heart” of every home: the kitchen. It’s not shoved into the back corner of the house any more. Instead, it’s wide open to other living areas. And an island is essential. They’re no longer just a place to drop the groceries, but are the primary in- home dining location. Bi-level islands minimize the dirty dish view and add architectural interest. And pantries. Everyone wants one whether it’s an over-sized cupboard in the corner or a walk-in.
Formal living rooms are dead — at least according to the interior designers at the home show. Instead, formal and informal living combine in a great room setting which offer a central social zone for activity and interconnection. In other words, when you come home from work, everyone gathers in the kitchen while mom or dad cooks at the island and everyone else gathers round the flat screen or slumps in a chair with their ipad in the open family room.
Windows. There are lots of them, and corner glass. Two windows joined at forty-five degree angles make smaller spaces feel larger and bring the outdoors in. I’m not sure about this trend in Alaska but in warmer climates, there’s lots of discussion about outdoor living as a way to add extra living space with courtyards, patios, decks, porches, even outdoor kitchens without a lot of added expense. One local builder has begun to cover his decks in higher price points which has received positive comments.
Here’s my favorite trend: master bathrooms as spas. That means five fixtures (two vanities, shower, tub, toilet) all designed around lots of tile in cool colors. If the master bedroom is an ideal 14 by 18 feet, the master bath has become half that size. Here in Alaska, large five to six-foot showers with double heads and built-in bench is a growing trend. And if space allows, sitting areas and retreats are nice add-ons, even converting an adjacent bedroom for that particular use. Of special interest for families is grouping the secondary bedrooms away from the master by locating a bath in-between.
The magic word at the Home Show was “flex” space whether it’s an extra bedroom/den/formal dining/home center. In fact, that almost obsolete dining room has become the perfect spot for “flex”. The move-up model home of a generation ago had three eating areas — kitchen nook, island and formal dining room. Take your choice. One of those is now gone. New homes are now being designed for multiple uses in one space. Call the room a home center or a den, it’s usually visually adjacent to the kitchen, the heart of the home. Regardless of whether you’re a novice chef or an expert on where to get the best take-out, you want that home center and big kitchen. And it’s wide open spaces where home buyers can define rooms by lighting, half walls, furniture, area rugs and ceilings. Look up, Alaskans, ceilings are becoming the “in” feature. Whether they’re painted an accent color, highlighted with sheetrocked beams, coffered or 12 feet high, they are “it”.
But first and foremost, it’s all about the exterior look. Paint colors are more subdued — no highly contrasting trim or three color exteriors. Instead, they’ve become more monochromatic with simple changes in hue. Dark gray to light gray. Light beige to medium to dark to highlight the architectural details of the home. Home buyers shop with their eyes. If they don’t like the exterior elevation of a home, they don’t come inside to see how attractive the interior may be. Smart builders in Alaska already know this. Others have yet to learn it.
It takes several months to build a home. It takes only ten seconds for a buyer to reject it in a “deadly” drive-by.